Local vs. Organic?

The title question may not be one that you ask yourself very often, especially if your produce purchases are whatever is on sale at the nearby Super Wal-Mart. Even then, you might think you are doing something for the environment by buying from the small stack of those organic bananas that cost a little more and don't look quite as bright and yellow as the larger stack. I suppose, given the choice between these two stacks of bananas, the organic ones probably are a little better choice for many reasons. And since bananas are likely not a local crop for most of us, organic ones are a good way to go. But what about tomatoes, onions, carrots and the like? For this sort of produce, the buying conundrum should be a little different. If we were seriously thoughtful about our purchases, the bright, red tomatoes that come from god-knows-where would not even be in the equation. Which leads to the title question. Which is a better, more environmentally conscious purchase, organic or local?

I got started on a very good article in the most recent issue of Adbusters entitled Grandma vs. Carbon? by Clayton Dach. In the article Clayton refers to a study by the David Suzuki Foundation. The foundation "has concluded that if you must choose between organic and local produce, it makes more environmental sense to choose local."

So go to Wal-Mart and buy your toothpaste if you must. But, get thee to a farmers market for the produce. If your local farmers grow with organic methods, all the better. The point is that you are supporting someone in your own back yard. And, if you are like some, you could literally get veggies from your very own backyard.


B-W said...

Nice post, but a quick caution:

"If we were seriously thoughtful about our purchases, the bright, red tomatoes that come from god-knows-where would not even be in the equation."

Thoughtful does not necessarily equate to "environmentally friendly." It's a matter of priorities. A person can be entirely "thoughtful" about a purchase, but if his/her priority is something other than environmental awareness (and, even there, it might depend on your definition of the term), he/she might still have reason to prefer the "bright, red tomatoes."

For example, let's suppose that you know that the local tomato is farmed using some pesticide that may not have been used on the "bright red one," having seen the local farmer use it. (Not to say that this is likely, but it's certainly possible) Is it still the most "thoughtful" choice to produce the pesticide-ridden, but local fruit?

Chris Spinks said...


You ask if it is a thoughtful choice to PRODUCE pesticide-ridden local fruit. It's a good question but one to be asked the farmer not we the consumers. I was asking about our purchases, not our productions. If we have before us the choice of buying organic but not local produce or local but not organic produce, the more environmental choice, according to the Suzuki Foundation, is the local but not organic option. We can of course look for and purchase local AND organic. It would be nice if we did. I certainly don't. One smaller first step I can make is buying local. I'll deal with the non-organic issue later if I have to.

As to your word of caution about equating thoughtful and environmentally friendly, I had hoped that "thoughtful" would be understood as "putting thought into the impact of our purchases." Certainly one could be be full of thought and reason to buy the bright, red tomatoes ("bright and red" were meant to be shorthand for non-organically enhanced fruit; "god-knows-where" obviously referred to non-local; in other words I was trying to indicate produce that did not fit into the question I and the Suzuki Foundation were asking), but I would have serious doubts that those thoughts would concern the impact of the purchase on anyone other than the purchaser.

Anyway, thanks for forcing me to clarify.

B-W said...

You highlighted a typo. That would shouldn't have been "produce", but "purchase." My apologies. Someday, the blog-guru's will install an edit feature.

Igford said...

Just being honest here, but my choice is going to be whatever tastes the best.

Perhaps I'm not well informed enough. What's the real benefit to organic? That there are no pesticides used? Aren't pesticides a good thing? I'm not going to buy green beans if they have little grasshopper bites all over them, or a tomato with a worm hole in it.

I'm actually not trying to be argumentative here. I'm honestly just not in-the-know. What's the real proven downside to eating vegetables grown with pesticides?

Chris Spinks said...

Igford, I am not up on all the benefits of organic, and in a way the post was meant to call attention to locally grown produce whether it be organic or not. But, still there are benefits to organic - one of them being better taste. The interweb has many informative bits on eating organic. For an in depth look you might check out this. For a quick list of the benefits of organic check out this list. Finally, I too don't want to be argumentative, but I wonder if it is always the best policy to go with what tastes best. Supposing two apples both taste fine (no worms or mush, etc.), but one of them, the non-organic one, has a slightly better taste to me (very subjective!) than the organic one, is it the best choice (again subjective and involving one's priorities) to go with the better tasting one?

Igford said...

That's the same question I'm asking! Why should I buy the organic one just because it is organic? Again, not being argumentative. Just wondering. :)

I guess I could ask the same question for local produce. What is the impact of supporting local farmers? Is it just the economic impact (i.e. money circulates through local businesses)?

Just wondering how good I should feel about buying local. I'll be buying all my fruits and veggies locally soon, as I'm moving somewhere where I'll be in walking distance to a farmers market. :) Convenience and price will be my real reasons for buying there, but if I can pretend I'm doing it for more noble reasons, that's all the better.

B-W said...

It should be noted that "organic" (much like "natural") is a word that has a lot of currency right now, but which is not necessarily well-defined in a strict sense. It seems to be a matter where folks just "know what they mean" when they use it, which isn't actually all that helpful for encouraging people to make informed decisions.

(Maybe I can get this one through without typos?)

Chris Spinks said...

Mark, what you say is quite true. All the more reason to focus less on whether something is organic and more on whether it is local.